The martial arts show on Amazon Prime is a delicious guilty pleasure. Spread across three seasons, Into the Badlands has got pulpy fantasy, terrific martial arts and more twists than a mountain road.
Creators: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Cast: Daniel Wu, Emily Beechum, Aramis Knight, Orla Brady, Sarah Bolger, Oliver Stark
Seasons: 3 (2015, 2017, 2018)
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where folks dress fancy
The streaming networks are full of populist martial arts dramas, but few are as satisfying as Into the Badlands. The wuxia show by creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar is frequently described as a fan favourite. In other words, it’s a piece of glorious pulp that critics would pass over.
The Badlands is a post-apocalyptic domain controlled by despotic feudal lords known as barons. Their fiefs function like plantations in which the poor toil in fields belonging to the ruling family. The only other class is that of warriors protecting the fief. This world is a strange pastiche. A few elements of the destroyed world survive such as electricity and cars. But humanity has regressed to the analogue age. There are no guns. Combat is either hand-to-hand or using weapons. The elaborate costumes reflect all kinds of sartorial influences, from fencing outfits and vintage three-piece suits to tribal-style togs and monk robes making the Badlands seem like one giant Halloween party. It’s also a rather “woke” universe in which ethnicity doesn’t matter. This is a mixed-race world in which folks of all skin colours are equally privileged and damned.
The good guys are really bad guys
The chief players are Sunny (Daniel Wu), a fighter on the mend. After killing mercilessly for his baron, Sunny is looking for redemption. He becomes a mentor to MK (Aramis Knight), a kid with immense latent power that gets activated in stressful conditions. In fact, there are many “dark ones” like MK who are, in later episodes of the show, marshalled into an army by Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay), a mystical figure out to create a utopia. Though he turns out to be as ruthless and power-hungry as the mercenary barons he seeks to topple. One of them is Minerva aka The Widow (Emily Beechum), who wants to free serfs from servitude. Like a lot of self-professed liberators, she’s blind to her own desire for power. An opportunist, she frequently switches allegiances and spends half the show chasing MK in order to use him as a weapon of mass destruction.
The action is thrilling, the plots twists delicious
Into the Badlands is unabashedly pulpy, stagey and even the most complex characters are two-dimensional. Even though the Badlands are supposed to cover a vast territory, you never get a sense of geographic or temporal scale as characters traverse distances with ridiculous speed. One scene Sunny is in warm climes, the next he’s on a wintry mountain-top. Yet the show is addictive. There are plenty of classy fight scenes of which the best have Sunny demolishing mini armies or tossing adversaries to their death using fancy fist and leg work. Minerva comes second as she ploughs through enemies in leather pants and high heels. The plot twists frequently, practically every episode ending in a thrilling rug-out-from-under-your-feet moment. The third season wraps up with an event that signals further episodes. Alas, AMC, the channel that originally aired the show, cancelled it earlier this year.